Amidst a Mood of Defeat, Israel Determined to Stay “On the Map”

March 29, 2016

4 min read

During one of the bloodiest decades in Israel’s history, the Jewish state defeated the odds and emerged victorious on the international court – the basketball court, that is.

The 1970’s were undeniably a tumultuous period for the very young country. In 1972, the Summer Olympics in Germany saw tragedy when a group of 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and eventually killed by eight members of the Black September Palestinian terrorist organization in an event that is now known as the infamous Munich Massacre.

Little more than a year later, in October of 1973, Egypt and Syria carried out a vicious surprise attack against Israel, from the southern and northern borders respectively, on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur.

Although Israel ultimately won the war, it came at the heavy price of approximately 2,800 Israeli casualties, in addition to the overwhelming sense of despair which engulfed the country as Egypt pushed farther into the Jewish state’s borders than anyone could have anticipated.

Maccabi Tel Aviv plays against the USSR basketball team in a 1977 game that made Israeli history (Photo: Youtube screenshot/On the Map)
Maccabi Tel Aviv plays against the USSR basketball team in a 1977 game that made Israeli history (Photo: Youtube screenshot/On the Map)

In 1976, Palestinian and German terrorists hijacked an Air France airliner enroute to Paris from Tel Aviv and redirected it to Uganda. While Commander Yoni Netanyahu, brother of Israel’s current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, led a daring and successful rescue mission known as Operation Entebbe, the operation cost the commander his life and underscored the danger to which Israelis were exposed all over the world.

Further, the decade was marked with dozens of terror attacks in which a total of 163 Israelis were killed, 41 of whom were children.

Needless to say, the national mood was somber.

Then, in 1977, something miraculous occurred which put Israel on the map forever. On February 17, throughout Israel, streets emptied and restaurants went dark as the entire nation watched the European League basketball semi-finals in which Maccabi Tel Aviv was set to play against the Soviet Union (USSR) team. Israel was filled with pride as its team represented the Jewish state abroad.

In an incredible and unexpected upset, Maccabi defeated the four-time defending champions by a 12-point margin and went on to win the entire championship, eventually declaring triumph against Italy in the finals.

on the map banner

With their perseverance to guide them to the top, Maccabi won the coveted title of European Cup Basketball Champions.

Israel, the small country whose borders, and very existence, have been contested since the day of its establishment in 1948, had made its mark on the international stage. As the team celebrated their incredible win, one enthusiastic player, Tal Brody, told reporters, “We are on the map and we are staying on the map, not only in sports but in everything!”

His prophecy came true. Israel has since become the frontrunner in the fields of innovation. Whether in the fields of medicine, technology, agriculture, computer engineering, weaponry or defense tactics, Israel has time again proven itself among the leaders of industry.

The game had changed, and Israel was filled with excitement for its future on the world stage. When the Maccabi team arrived home in Tel Aviv, more than 200,000 people were there to greet the victorious athletes in song and dance.

In 1977, director Dani Menkin was still a young boy, yet he remembers the championship as one of his first childhood memories. “[The game] was one of the most significant moments in Israel’s history. Everyone remembers that day,” Menkin told Breaking Israel News.

Maccabi Tel Aviv plays against the USSR basketball team in a 1977 game that made Israeli history (Photo: Youtube screenshot/On the Map)
Maccabi Tel Aviv plays against the USSR basketball team in a 1977 game that made Israeli history (Photo: Youtube screenshot/On the Map)

But with the ever-present tensions in Israel, the simple victory, which brought a nation together, has over the years been forgotten. Menkin aims to change all that.

“When we found out there was no movie about [the event], despite the extensive behind-the-scenes footage that exists, that’s when we decided to make this film,” the director said.

Menkin’s documentary “On the Map,” named for Brody’s unforgettable line following the Maccabi win, tells the heartening story of the Israeli underdog who, against all odds, defeated their adversary and rose to championship.

The Menkin team is looking for partners in their mission to bring to light one of Israel’s greatest victories and keep the story alive. With their crowdfunding campaign, they hope to complete the film and cement the Maccabi win in the annals of Israel’s cultural history.

Watch the full trailer below:

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